In The Arms of God

 

by Ronnie Collins

 

            The whistle of the wind through the old iron gate and the setting of the sun lend to the serenity of the hillside.  As I walk up the slithering tracks of the winding old road toward the summit, I can see the town far below.  Ancient ones reside here, for this is their eternal resting place.  The tombstone‑lined sides of the narrow cobblestone path have begun to cast shadows across my way.  My mind is aglow with thoughts of yesteryear and the many people who contributed to its very existence.  As I stop in front of the largest statue, I remember reading of this great man.  The mortal body of Dr. Cowles Mead Vaiden, founder of our town, is entombed here forever but the spirit of his remembrance still spills forth in the minds of every man and woman of our fair city.  Dr. Vaiden's memorial is surrounded by an old iron fence coated with rust and creaking with each gust of wind.  It is located in the middle of the large cemetery as if put there on purpose; to keep a peaceful watch over his community.      

            Older markers lie here.  The engraving on some is discernible only to those with perfect vision, for the sands of time have taken their toll on these old marble tombstones.  Some markers lie flat, probably from vandalism or the childhood mischief of some of the youngsters in our town.  I take special care with each step to avoid the desecration of the graves, for I dare not let even the most innocent‑seeming tomfoolery send me to Hell.  This is hallowed ground and should be treated as such.  I will not make any exceptions, for the peacefulness of the hillside should not be disturbed.            

            The memories of my childhood come back to me as I walk along the shadows.  There are so many of this town's most prominent citizens here.  The memory of my younger days floods my brain.  As I recollect, I try to reconstruct the faces of these people that have been laid to rest here within the short span of my existence on this earth.  Some of the ones here happen to have been my schoolmates that were taken from us by a will far greater that our own.  Others were school teachers, factory workers, farmers, clergymen, and numerous species of God‑fearing people; good people that spent their life working their fingers to the bone to make life easier for the never‑ending generations to come.  These laborers of the earth have found their long awaited rest.      

            An owl's screech carries on the wind from the loft of the old church nearby.  I trudge onward wearily.  The climb has taken its toll.  As I stop to rest, the chill of the night air alerts my senses as the sun drops behind the trees.  I sit down in the tall grass beside an old Confederate marker of perhaps one of our patriarchs that happened to be called to fight in a battle for  our noble South.  I can imagine the sound of the rifle fire and the thunder of the cannons bombarding our troops.  In my mind's eye, I can see the campfires lighting the hillsides, flickering as if thousands of fireflies had invaded the wide open territory of what was to later become our town.  I can hear the wails of agony as a soldier falls into the dust.  Knowing that each breath may be his last, the soldier glances proudly at the Confederate Flag.  With a sigh of relief, his gasps turn to silence.  Blood had stained our territory and this soldier was paying the price of war.       

            After resting a bit, I continue my journey.  It seems as though the trees are listening to every step, every labored breath.  My old homeplace is not far from here.  Looking through the trees, I can tell that the old house is doomed to a slow death of decay and termites.  The scent of cedar lingers on the wind as I near a clearing across from the old house.  Growing up, I spent my first seven years there.  I had visited this old cemetery many times, although most of the visits had been with my mother.  I remember hearing many stories about ghosts and demons that stalk this old graveyard.  Maybe, this one time, I can cast these memories aside.        

            As I travel further onward, my senses become alive with eerie feelings as if I am being watched.  It is now that I realize that I am here alone.  The hour of twilight has driven the superstitious back into their homes.  The shadows are now playing tricks on my eyes and my mind is wanting to believe in the ghosts of the past and the evils of the world.  I look upward to notice the full moon beginning to rise from the east.  The old stories of the "bogey‑men" are being recalled over and over as thousands of goose bumps appear to engulf my body.  My spine tingles as if an army of Confederate ants is marching up and down, pausing to rest at each vertebra.  Each hair on the nap of my neck stands at attention.  My heart is pumping rapidly as I increase my pace, my footsteps echoing through the woods.  Suddenly, a revelation appears!  An angel guarding the pathway seems to beckon to me saying, "It's all right, my son.  No harm can befall you here.  This is the place of the Lord and you are safe."      

            Looking into the hypnotic face of the angel, time‑scarred and stained with sap from the crying trees throughout the decades, I feel a sense of tranquility.  I notice a Holy Cross on the obelisk.  I suddenly have no reason to feel uneasy or morbid.  I remind myself that the evils of the world lie within our everyday lives.  Why must I fear the dead, for the living are the real perpetrators that seem to threaten my existence?  The souls within the confines of this Holy ground have found an escape from the fears that lie within the Earth.       

            There is peace to be found here.  The sounds now, although vague, seem to be the sounds of crying.  The crying is not for the dead, but yet for the living.  I now realize that I am the ruler of my destiny and the controller of my fate.  My very existence hangs in the balance with decisions of even the most trivial‑seeming matters.  My life‑essence grows stronger now than at any time in my past visits.      

            As I gather my composure and begin the long walk down the hill toward my car, I feel a reluctance in leaving this place.  The old graveyard lies silent once again until another dark and lonely night passes by.  Maybe tomorrow will bring another visitor to stop and ponder or to put a bouquet of flowers on the grave of a loved one.  This old cemetery is one of my favorite places.  As strange as it may seem, sometimes it is the only place that I can go to relieve my mind of the trials and tribulations of everyday life.  The people residing here have found the answers to all problems; resting here -- in the arms of God.